Do black lives really matter in America? Indeed, have they ever mattered, in our sordid racial history? And what, if anything, can we do to make sure that black lives matter today? These are just some of the questions we address on this week’s episode that we are calling “Race Matters.”
What is it
Started in the wake of George Zimmerman's 2013 acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has become a powerful campaign demanding redress for the mistreatment of African-Americans by law enforcement in the United States. But it has also inspired deep antipathy from those who claim it overemphasizes racial issues. So how much does – and should – race matter? Does #BlackLivesMatter speak for all black people? How should we respond to counter-movements like #AllLivesMatter? Ken and Debra discuss matters with Chris Lebron from Johns Hopkins University, author of The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea.
Debra and Ken begin by debating the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the potential implications of its emphasis on race. Debra argues that racial inequality in the justice system is a disaster for everyone, and the focus should be on uniting people against a common cause rather than pitting racial groups against each other. Ken responds by arguing that such a view, encapsulated by the All Lives Matter countermovement, is problematic because it implies the existence of color-blind solutions to problems that are inherently colored by race. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about excluding others, he says — rather, it is about finally including black people in the notion of the collective “we.”
The hosts are joined by Chris Lebron, author of The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea. Debra poses the question of whether in order to make progress on the issues that the black community faces, it might be more effective to frame them in a more inclusive way. She gives the example of poverty as an issue that, while genuinely impacting black people, may best be dealt with through universal entitlement programs, low-cost housing, and better schools for everyone. Chris disagrees, arguing that the fundamental problem with race in this country has to do with value: black people are seen as worth less. When programs and policies that provide public goods on a more equitable basis are implemented, this value judgment finds its way back into these programs and policies, and black people are again edged out of their benefits.
In the final segment, the hosts ask Chris how we can begin to move forward as a nation. They bring up the challenge of galvanizing support from outside the black community in order to grow the movement against racial injustice. Chris shares one potential method of framing the issue that might provoke change, which is to convey to white Americans the notion that to perpetuate racial inequity is actually to shortchange their own humanity. He then closes by pointing out the recent surge in racial resentment that has taken place, suggesting that the national conversation be directed from white privilege to white rage.
Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 6:11) → Lisa Veale takes a closer look at the activism that has occurred in the wake of police shootings of black individuals, such as Anthony Lamar Smith and Michael Brown. She also examines some of the critiques of the Black Lives Matter movement that come from its sympathizers, concluding that the movement’s blatantly racial message both alienates some and and motivates others.
- Conundrum: A former Peace Corps volunteer wonders whether her presence did more harm than good by raising expectations that might not be met.